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GÖTEBORG 2018 Tribeca 2018

Amateurs: Between class tensions and community spirit


- Gabriela Pichler's second film is a feisty heart-warmer that celebrates diversity and community without shying away from class and racial inequalities

Amateurs: Between class tensions and community spirit
Zahraa Aldoujaili and Yara Aliadotter in Amateurs

Swedish filmmaker Gabriela Pichler's feature debut, Eat Sleep Die [+see also:
film review
interview: China Ahlander
interview: Gabriela Pichler
interview: Nermina Lukac
film profile
, was a festival hit and garnered her the national Guldbagge Awards for Best Direction and Best Screenplay in 2013. It was a gritty drama that focused on a Balkan immigrant girl in a small town, and her second film, Amateurs [+see also:
film profile
, which has just won the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film at the Göteborg Film Festival (see the news), is set in a similar milieu, except that the director expands these themes to celebrate community spirit versus class and racial differences.

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Now the subjects in focus are two female high-school students, both immigrants of colour but from different social strata. Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili) has arrived in Sweden with her family, and her mother works as a cleaner in the town council building, while Dana (Yara Aliadotter) has been adopted by an upper middle-class Kurdish-Swedish couple. The film opens with a beautiful segment of the duo having fun at a Wild West party in the small town of Lafors, to a soundtrack of the unashamedly evocative classic “Summer Wine”.

Meanwhile, there is excitement in the town council as its head announces that a German low-cost superstore amusingly named Superbilly is looking at locations to set up an outlet, and it's now down to Lafors and a neighbouring town. They decide to make a promotional film to attract the company, and second-generation Tamil immigrant Musse (Fredrik Dahl) takes this endeavour on himself.

His first idea is to get the students from the local school to shoot the footage, and thus produce a fresh, dynamic and low-cost film that will stand out among the generic promotional videos of other towns. The results are disappointing to the council (but hilarious to the audience), so they hire a professional filmmaker instead, but Aida and Dana are inspired to show the real Lafors with their smartphones. Their attempts definitely capture the positive spirit of the community, but they also reveal the class and racial tensions present in the town, which is not doing as well economically as it had done before its tanning factory lost a lot of its profit to cheaper alternatives outsourced from poorer countries.

Pichler successfully contrasts all of the good and bad aspects of the heterogeneous community, and often scathingly tackles the underlying prejudices and inequalities that permeate what is considered one of the most tolerant societies in Europe. The main characters and their backgrounds and aspirations are well developed and clearly outlined. Aida and Dana's spirited escapades are often exhilarating, while Musse's relationship with his senile mother provides a strong emotional weight on the other side of the scales. Brief and well-placed episodes with Bosnian and Romanian immigrants add to the variety in terms of both the class and the mentality dimensions of the community.

Visually and atmospherically, Pichler also strikes a good balance with dynamic cutting between clear digital cinematography and cleverly executed, amateur-like smartphone footage.

Amateurs is a production by Sweden's Garagefilm International, and Denmark's LevelK has the international rights.

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